There has been a lot of talk about the “big four” in Toronto, but it is clear as day that the Maple Leafs simply will not be as good without their sparkplug on the ice.
Zach Hyman may not light up the scoresheet like 2021 Rocket Richard Trophy winner Auston Matthews. He may not be as flashy with the puck as Mitch Marner and William Nylander. And Hyman doesn’t have the overall skill set that captain John Tavares does.
But — and this is a big but in Leafs-land — no one in a Toronto uniform has competed as hard, or has gotten their nose as dirty, as Hyman has during his tenure in blue and white.
That is why his impending departure out of Toronto and to the former North Division rival Edmonton Oilers hits the Leafs where they can least afford it: in the intangibles department.
Hyman brings his hard hat — filled with energy, tenacity, and a no-quit attitude — to the rink every night. The same cannot be said for his soon-to-be-former teammates.
The Toronto native has amassed 86 goals and 99 assists in 345 career games, many of them playing alongside Matthews, and Hyman was heading toward a career year in 2021 before he suffered a sprained MCL in his right knee in April which caused him to miss two weeks.
As far as his departure from Toronto goes, the writing was on the wall.
The 29-year-old unrestricted free agent winger is free to go to whichever team he wants after his current contract, which paid him $2.25-million a season, expired.
The Oilers are a natural destination for Hyman, a former star with the Hamilton Red Wings in his junior hockey days, and they have reportedly offered the grinder more than double his current salary.
Various media reports in both cities suggest Edmonton general manager Ken Holland is offering Hyman a seven-year contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $5.5 million.
If the Oilers and Maple Leafs can come together on a sign-and-trade deal, Hyman could get an extra year on that contract, but would instead earn $5 million per season, thus giving Edmonton a little more wiggle room under the NHL‘s stagnant salary cap.
Despite having all-world superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton has not had very much playoff success.
Acquiring a hard-nosed player like Hyman — who had 33 points in 43 games last season — would be a big boost to their top line and the team’s depth up-front.
For Toronto, it will be a massive loss.
There isn’t another Zach Hyman on Toronto’s roster, and the Leafs need more players like him, not fewer.
Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.
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